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1911 was the year of the fly in this country

Published July 30. 2011 09:02AM

Medical authorities were alarmed at the "threatened importation of typhus fever and the germs of other intestinal diseases" due to the high number of flies during the hot summer of 1911.

One Tamaqua Courier writer told how a many areas were initiating Swat the Fly campaigns in an attempt to control the flying menace.

"The chase after Brer Fly is no new form of sportsmanship," he said. "Few latter day swatters can equate the persistence with which the American housewife of olden times used to fall upon the trail of the little varmints."

He said one tactic was to lay down a dab of molasses on the kitchen table, allowing "a hundred or two greedy flies to collect."

"While the sweetness was gurgling down their tiny throats," he explained, "the mistress would creep up stealthily, avoiding each one of Mr. Fly's reputed hundred eyes, gathering up the fluttering pests and depositing the whole bunch squirming into the debts of the slop bucket, where they soon perished beneath the foul flood."

The writer reminisced about the former days when "our grandmothers used to tack strips of tough brown paper to tack strips to long sticks and with these flying ends vigorously manipulated, Mr. Fly soon found that he had an immediate engagement outside of the back door."

He noted that "in the old days" it was common, particularly in northern states, to have outlying barns and sheds attached to the home in order to shield the farmer from cold and snows of winter. While this plan was effective as a protection from the foul weather, in summer "it became an avenue for the passage of millions of flies, who, after feasting on stable offal, went to pester the humans."

He noted that since then, the modern farm wife has grown "more susceptible to odors and dirt and the barn and the living room of today are rarely found under a continuous roof."

A New York writer explained that farms were prime breeding grounds since "the manure pile is the seventh heaven of the fly." He said that it was best to kill the fly in spring and thus "destroy its millions of prospective descendants this summer."

Another writer suggested that borax used on the manure acts as a poison to the fly and will not injure farm stock, or destroy the fertilizing qualities of the manure. He said the borax, a white powder consisting of soft colorless crystals, should be scattered over the manure and then sprinkled with water, which made it dissolve easily. Today, it is still used as an insecticide, as well as a component of many detergents and cosmetics.

The federal government suggested the use of fly poisons such as formaldehyde and sodium salicylate and the burning of pyrethrum powder to clear the house of flies.

Pennsylvania-born Samuel Jay Crumbie, an active health advocate of the day, had worked as a pharmacist apprentice in Sugar Grove, Warren County, before moving to Kansas in 1885 where he became a member of the state board of health. Knowing that flies and rodents were also responsible for disease transmission, Crumbie led "Swat the Fly" and "Bat the Rat" campaigns in order to get citizens and governments to practice pest control.

Under his influence, window and door screens became standard on homes, many communities outlawed manure piles and open cesspools and people across Kansas began carrying flyswatters.

In his 1911 opinion, the Tamaqua Courier writer explained how the city of Worcester, Mass., instituted a"Swat the Fly" campaign which not only helped control the insects, but kept children active during summer. A boy won the city's $100 prize by capturing the most flies - 1,219,000. He and his youthful competitors filled over 10 barrels.

Worcester was not the only city with an innovative approach. Officials in Redlands, Calif., didn't feel swatting was the answer and turned to using large outdoor traps for its "Official Fly Catcher" campaign.

The fly trap had a wire screen cage, 12 inches square and two feet high. On the floor of the cage were two cones and a bait pan consisting of stale bread and milk, syrup, Swiss cheese and any other morsel to tempt the fly. During the hot, dry weather, the trap was baited daily.

About 100 outdoor traps were used in the downtown business district and another 400 were scattered throughout the residential areas. During the early summer months, more than 50 gallons of dead flies were taken from the traps in the business district alone.

The campaign was credited with eliminating four million flies in a month.

The city of Savannah's more novel approach carried an underlying social message. Stale beer not only proved successful as a fly lure, but as a temperance lesson in the negative effects of alcohol.

One Savannah newspaperman joked that "assault and battery was common among the captured flies and disorderly conduct even among the most staid flies was the case without exception."

George DeLoach, a youngster who employed stale beer as one of his methods, won the $10 prize for turning in a total of 2,199,200 flies.

Whoever went to the trouble of counting the more than two million flies should have received prizes themselves.

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